War at Claridge’s Hotel in London
In 2004, worth by his own estimates “around £ 100million” and running his own private equity firm, Quinlan Private, he was perfectly positioned to leap forward when Blackstone and Colony Capital brought their hotels to market. Deutsche Bank, which Quinlan remembered from a 2003 deal where he raised $ 200 million almost overnight to buy a portfolio of his own real estate assets, recommended him as a buyer whose money would come quickly and easily. On March 11, 2004, former tax inspector Derek Quinlan signed to buy four of London’s biggest trophies for $ 1.37 billion, far more than the market thought they were worth, as was his style. Quinlan thrived on the raw charm and optimism that drove Irish banks to fund him because, in many eyes, he overpaid for properties, a strategy whose flaws would be revealed when markets crashed, but who passed for genius as they ascended. With the acquisition of Claridge, he stunned bankers from top to bottom on Wall Street, pulling obscurity on the pages of The New York Times.
He deposited a deposit of $ 35.8 million, then raised the rest through a partnership whose name suggested a conscious co-optation of a symbol of English power: Coroin, from Gaelic for “crown.” “The Irish in London were traditionally considered poor Paddies,” says Irish time reporter Simon Carswell. “These Irish upstarts were showing their former colonial masters that they had arrived.” Coroin’s partners were linked by three notable terms: (1) Quinlan himself had “gold stock” meaning that Claridge’s could not be sold without his approval. (2) Any investor wishing to sell his shares had to offer them to other investors before looking outside the group. And: (3) The shares of any partner declared bankrupt would automatically be offered to others. Quinlan wanted a reputable investor whose name would attract others, and therefore entered Coroin’s only non-Irish partner Manchester, the English billionaire Green family, who critically bought their shares through a trust based on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. The rest came from a newly wealthy Ireland, and after some initial shuffling, ownership was as follows: Dublin stockbroker Kyran McLaughlin held 5%; Riverdance designers Moya Doherty and John McColgan owned 10%; the Greens owned 22 percent; and Quinlan owned 32%, a stake matched only by the man who was destined to become his antagonist, real estate mogul Patrick McKillen.
A product of Catholic Belfast during the Troubles and a friend of Bono for years, McKillen had a patrician upbringing compared to Quinlan’s. His family owned a chain of muffler stores, DC Exhausts, which McKillen says sold for around $ 17.7 million about 25 years ago. He never attended university and at the age of 16 in 1972 was sent to work in Dublin by his father, just as Belfast was steeped in sectarian violence. “Belfast and Beirut,” McKillen recalls, “these two cities were being destroyed day by day, so it was wise for my old man to say you better go to Dublin”. Over the next 30 years, he built his own fortune, a real estate empire stretching from London to Tokyo, the true value of which is a closely guarded secret but placed by a former partner in the hundreds of millions. “Catholics in Belfast have a certain style about them,” said the old associate. “Paddy would work all the hours that God gave him. He has a house in Los Angeles, and one afternoon he met me at the Chateau Marmont, wearing a gray sweatshirt, his snow-white hair, the emerald of a gold claddagh ring making neon californian sun. He had invested in a private Quinlan transaction in the past but had never dealt directly with Derek Quinlan. He describes the effect of wealth on his ex-partner with disgust.
“Quinlan was only interested in red wine and parties,” he says. “Paddy’s take on me says more about Paddy than I do,” Quinlan replies.
“My mind was convinced to say no,” McKillen said of the night Quinlan brought him the hotel offer, “and he started talking. He said the Savoy hotel group is for sale. It was greed or whatever in the human being. I’m an asshole: I said, ‘I’m in it.’ “
Quinlan now had $ 197 million and borrowed $ 1.2 billion from a consortium of Irish banks, which gave him more than enough to buy the hotels, the meaning of which only became clear when he traveled to London to close the deal. He took a shower at Claridge’s, then looked out the window to see that someone had hoisted the Irish flag on the large front of the building. Ireland was England’s first colony, dominated and brutalized for centuries. Now, at last, the Irish were in London, seizing treasures. He thought of his army major father and cried.
“Here, a group of Irish people were buying the stronghold of the British establishment,” suggests Quinlan’s lieutenant Gerry Murphy, a mushy 60-year-old man who speaks with the earthy cadences of his hometown Cork. “It was a spectacular and incredible dream.”
Investors had planned to sell the Berkeley, Connaught, and Savoy at a profit, then pay off the $ 1.2 billion and own Claridge’s for free and duty-free, almost as a giveaway. But Derek Quinlan wanted more.
Coroin will ultimately keep everything except the Savoy, which required major renovations. The obvious buyer was a billionaire who came second behind Quinlan in the bidding process: Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. With its fortune of $ 23.7 billion, repairs to the Savoy – they would ultimately cost $ 350 million – were no obstacle. An agreement was reached in August, off Cannes, aboard Alwaleed’s 282-foot yacht. Quinlan and McKillen attended, along with McKillen’s old friend Bono, who – Quinlan likes to say – hailed Alwaleed as “the Warren Buffett of the Middle East.” What title seemed to make the Saudi prince happy. He bought the Savoy for $ 430 million.
Claridge’s was so heavy with status symbolism that it distorted social space. Petrocrats, plutocrats, oligarchs – brilliant people of a deceptively golden age – they all wanted to meet the new hotel owner, and Quinlan was only too happy to be met: Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad invited him to his fortified palace in the desert; Sergei Pugachev, known at the time as the Kremlin banker, invited him to Moscow to attend a presentation showing his holdings in shipyards and coal, followed by dinner in a large hall lined with guards of the body and portraits of the Romanovs. “He said..” Quinlan recalls, as if recounting the words of the divine: “You can have whatever wine you want.“
The last he arrived in the strangest land of all.
Follow the portraits of Quinlan’s Mayfair Club aristocrats beyond the end of the empire and you will come to Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, identical twins, owners of a real estate, media and retail empire of $ 3.9 billion, among its assets valued on Telegraph and the Ritz hotel in London. Now 79, they live in Monaco and in a 92-room New Gothic castle on a Channel island, Brecqhou, where the brothers have been accused of playing extreme medieval fantasy by attempting to ‘annex the neighboring island of Sark, hoping to become their own personal stronghold.
Claridge’s must have been irresistible to the twins, who had risen through the ranks of London’s lower middle class after starting out as house painters. The Barclays, suggests an insider, was too busy with other acquisitions in 2002 and 2003 to focus on hotels. Still, they wanted to meet Claridge’s new owner and invited Quinlan to visit them in Brecqhou in November 2005. We get the fables we deserve: the former Irish tax inspector, now immersed in the quest for spooky vision of the ‘money, met dreamed knights. Today, the Barclays do pay for Quinlan’s car, his house, and his children’s education. But where Quinlan was funded by the Barclays, McKillen has become their nemesis and proudly recounts how the besieged Sarkees invited him to visit him as a comrade in arms. He describes the Barclays estate: “Brecqhou Island is very small and [the castle] is like a seven-tier Christmas cake. Looks like the weight is breaking the island. This is the most sinister and the weirdest thing. Nothing prepares you for it.